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Negotiating from a position of strength

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In the latest UK200Group blog post, Jonathan Russell of member firm ReesRussell discusses the rationale behind the recent General Election, in the context of Brexit.

When Theresa May (TM) called the General Election (GE), one must presume that she was not expecting the result which she got, but we have to consider in the context of Brexit what might the thinking have been.

Having triggered article 50, we have a 2-year negotiation period for our exit from the EU, and before the GE this would have meant this period would have been coming to a close about a year before the next normally scheduled GE. This would not have been a good thing, because the political party in power want about 18 months normally, before a GE to ensure they can get the electorate ‘on side’ and in a feel-good mood, so they get re-elected! With the Brexit negotiations due to finish in that time window, the UK negotiating team would be under pressure to deliver a deal to show the electorate, The EU would know this and that would be to their advantage. The other argument that TM campaigned on was that she wanted a mandate from the electorate again to strengthen her hand.

Prior to the election TM’s position was no deal (Hard Brexit) was better than a bad deal – WE don’t have to accept that that was the truth, but in positioning in a negotiation you will always start at a point which you a) don’t expect to achieve and b) will be prepared to move away from. The danger can be if you start too far in one direction that can actually mean progress can be hampered simply because the gulf to narrow is seen as too large.

So has the GE ruined TM’s and the UK’s negotiating position? The sensible reaction would be to say no; it has actually made it better. So why is that in negotiation terms:-

a) The GE had a bigger turnout than usual, and the two parties with a significant increase in their share of the vote were the Conservatives and Labour; both parties which were both saying that the will of the people was Brexit, and they were not looking to change that decision. The two parties which suffered were the SNP and the LibDems both of whom had an anti-Brexit stance. So, the UK public has overwhelmingly supported, in negotiation stance, that Brexit should happen.

b) TM was starting from a position of Hard Brexit, but Labour were suggesting a softer approach – both parties got more support than before so no clear winner here except we know that not all Conservatives were in the TM camp. This on balance probably means we need to soften the TM approach which, because it closes any gulf, will aid negotiation.

c) TM does not have a workable majority and her personal mandate is reduced, so in negotiation terms she will have to be more conciliatory with the other viewpoints. Conservatives and Labour took 82.4% of the vote, so if the approach is a combined approach, that is a massive support and actually better than if the Conservatives had had a landslide!

So TM it would appear in negotiation terms calling the GE may have given the Country a better position in negotiating Brexit, even if it hasn’t done your political position much good in the UK. However, to take advantage of this improved position your position and approach will have to change. For the public mandate to work, it has to be a cross party negotiating team with a shift more towards an economic negotiation stance as the leader, rather than migration and a less antagonistic approach. In any mediation, the opening remarks will always include the sentiments that the Parties must be prepared to negotiate, and most importantly be looking to work towards a settlement, and have the authority to agree a deal. Together the Conservatives and Labour do have that authority and the people have told them to negotiate a deal not just make demands.

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